Brin and the Guardian

June 19, 2009

The Guardian, a London newspaper, has squeezed into its shrinking news hole some link bait. Jemima Kiss’s “Secrets of a Nimble Giant” carries the subtitle “Technology companies usually get slower as they get bigger – so why is Google as fast as ever?” Quite a positive spin on a company that many in the news biz love to tweak.

Ms. Kiss wrote:

With that $131bn market value, Google is in an unusually powerful financial and strategic position to give its engineers this kind of latitude. The downturn has barely dented Google’s research and development budget, which was reduced to $641m (£392m) for the first quarter of this year from $673m in 2008. Around 36% of its staff work in R&D in total, and the entire 2008 R&D budget was a staggering $2.79bn.

I liked the focus on engineering and money. She continued:

What could established media companies learn from Google’s approach to innovation? Given the perfect storm of economic meltdown and once-in-a-generation collapse of their business model, innovation may well have slipped off the priority list for old media. Perhaps it is time to rephrase the challenge, says Brin. “Any conversation I have about innovation starts with the ultimate goal – in this case what the reader is trying to accomplish, and what would make that better. Somebody reading up on the news wants to be kept up to date, and quickly.” News sites offer some useful content, but there’s a lot of duplication. “I don’t have a solution for you – I’m just saying that I think posing the problem correctly is perhaps more important than defining the solution. People want to have good, engaging, high-quality information about things going on right now in the world.”

For me the most interesting aspect of the story was its gentle approach. Perhaps the Guardian will take yet another step and tap into Google’s money making potential?

Stephen Arnold, June 19, 2009


3 Responses to “Brin and the Guardian”

  1. Charles on June 22nd, 2009 5:45 am

    “Shrinking news hole”? I’m not even sure I know what that means. You found this through our online site – is that shrinking? Maybe you could explain.

  2. Stephen E. Arnold on June 22nd, 2009 8:53 am


    I worked in London in 1998. I recall the Guardian as having multiple sections, magazines, inserts, and quite a bit of personal financial information, sports, and in depth stories, particularly on Sunday. Last time I was in London in December 2008, I bought a couple of Guardians and found them less meaty. Ergo, smaller news holes because the amount of text seemed reduced, the number of adverts was down, and the heft of the fungible copy seemed less weighty. In my opinion, a smaller news hole. That’s Kentucky slang for cost cutting. Just my opinion of course.

    Stephen Arnold, June 22, 2009

  3. Charles on June 22nd, 2009 11:18 am

    Ah… now I see. Well, the Guardian website only really got going after you’d left (in 1999), and if we tried to print what goes out on that each day then it would weigh about as much as a car.

    And if you buy it on a Saturday there are still plenty of pullouts, inserts, a magazine, a guide, four or maybe five different sections… though of course during the week it might seem smaller.

    Then again, 11 years is a long time in the life of print. The fungible copy might be smaller, but our news output – measured by output on paper and the web, plus of course global reach – has never been bigger.

    After all, if you measured Google by the number of things it makes that you can drop on your foot, you’d conclude it was a pretty unimportant company.

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